Water Forum
Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, during the opening of the three-day fifth Arab Water Forum in Dubai on today. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: The UAE is developing three water desalination plants in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Umm Al Quwain with a combined capacity of 420 million imperial gallons per day (MIGD) that will raise the country’s total water capacity to 1,590 MIGD when completed by 2023. This was announced by Suhail Al Mazrouei, UAE Minister of Energy and Infrastructure, during the opening of the three-day fifth Arab Water Forum (AWF5) in Dubai on today.

The three-day AWF5 focuses on water scarcity in the Arab world and the depleting water resources while coming up with innovative solutions to generate water from sustainable sources, in line with the Forum theme — Arab Water Security for Peace and Sustainable Development.

“We need cooperation and collaboration to support the water sector and strengthen efforts to address challenges related to water scarcity. Water is an essential pillar of sustainability, which makes it a strategic priority of the UAE,” noted Al Mazrouei during his keynote speech.

The UAE minister also called to accelerate efforts to address the water challenges “as it is of vital importance to sustainable development, and a factor central to achieving the social, economic and environmental goals and objectives associated with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals”.

Water development assistance from UAE

Al Mazrouei pointed out that the UAE has made robust contributions in the field of international cooperation by providing water development assistance and sanitation projects to countries in need. “Based on the vision and wisdom of the wise leadership of the UAE, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, has adopted the National Programme for Demand-Side Management for Energy and Water, with the aim of rationalising consumption to ensure sustainable consumption of energy, water, mining and infrastructure for the happiness and prosperity of society,” Al Mazrouei added.

Water Forum
Delegates at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Dubai during the opening of the fifth Arab Water Forum today. Image Credit: Supplied

He also noted that based on the United Nations 2020 report on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the UAE has achieved 100 per cent in the provision of safe drinking water, sanitation and sanitation services. The UAE has also achieved a score of 79 per cent in integrated water resources management.

Commitment to water security

Held under the patronage of the UAE Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure and supported by the League of Arab States (LAS) and the Ministry of Water Resources and Irrigation of Egypt (MWRI), AWF5 gathered more than 600 delegates and participants from 22 Arab countries pledging strong commitment to water security for peace and sustainable development in the Arab World.

Among the vital issues being discussed at the three-day AWF5 are achieving water, food and energy security as well as climate change and its impact on Arab water security. There are also discussions on water desalination techniques; sharing of water resources in achieving peace and development; effective water management; policies and diplomacy for the management of transboundary waters; enforcing laws and the establishment of effective partnerships for the management of shared water resources.

According to World Bank, the Middle East and North Africa is home to six per cent of the world’s population, but the renewable water supply in this region is less than two per cent in the world. The region is one of the driest in the world — with average per capita water supply of only 1,200 cubic metres, way below or only one-sixth of the global average of 7,000 cubic metres. Experts say most Arab countries cannot meet their current water needs and this will get worse as, according to World Bank, the per capita water availability is expected to be reduced by half in 2050.

Al Mazrouei noted: “The water-related challenges will become tougher in light of the growing demand for water and the scarcity of resources, especially in our Arab region in the coming years. The worsening global climate change and the increase in future demand for water have forced us to undertake more initiatives, dialogue, reflection and joint work to build future capabilities to meet these challenges and overcome. From the Arab Water Forum platform, we reaffirm our strong commitment to continue our efforts to enhance regional and international cooperation in water-related activities and programmes.”

For peace and sustainable development

Prof Dr Mahmoud Abu Zeid, president of the Arab Water Council, said the central theme of AWF5 is international cooperation, “given that the bulk of the renewable water resources in the region needs cross-border cooperation to meet the increasing challenges of water scarcity”. “Enhancing cooperation with regard to water and developing its resources is a vital matter and an urgent necessity. This goal will not be achieved except through full coordination between regional, national and local policies among all relevant sectors and at the global level among other global plans related to water and national goals and objectives,” Abu Zeid underlined.

Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, added: “From the Strait of Gibraltar to the Sultanate of Oman, from Jordan to Sudan, from the West to the East and from the North to the South, the Arab countries are facing a shortage of resources and frequent water stress which is slowing down their development and creating unbearable tensions.”

Fauchon said: “In the Arab countries as in the rest of the world, the future of water depends on the balance between supply and demand. We need to produce more water and consume less. This is what we have been doing for a long time. But this is no longer sufficient, the aquifers are running out and large-scale transfers are increasingly costly and fragile from a security point of view.”

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New solutions, however, deal with the scarcity of water, said Fauchon, adding: “Today, around 20,000 desalination treatment plants are functioning all over the world, with 30 per cent in the Arabic countries. Thanks to reverse osmosis process, costs have been reduced. The only major drawback is that saline and brine discharges create problems for biodiversity when they deposit on land or on shallow coasts.”

Experts also stressed the importance of working towards a cohesive and cooperative international community to enhance integrated water resource management approach and ensure water security and sustainability.